Photographs of our industrial past

Chris Corson-Scott, “A Poet Writing Before the Falls and Freezing Works, Mataura”

Chris Corson-Scott, Dreaming in the Anthropocene 
Trish Clark Gallery
To July 29

This year’s Auckland Festival of Photography exhibitions were presented under the thematic title of Identity and Chris Corson-Scott’s exhibition Dreaming in the Anthropocene provided a particularly relevant group of photographs identifying some of the disappearing aspects of New Zealand’s identity – its industrial past.

The interest in industrial archaeology has only been a feature of cultural preservation for a few decades but in many ways it is much more important than the preservation of our architectural history, which was very much based on imported models.

Our industrial legacy from the late 19th and early 20th century is much more relevant to the growth of New Zealand society with its No 8 wire approach and constant need to find local means of invention, construction and commercial enterprise. 

In 2016 Chris Corson-Scott journeyed around the South Island with his large 8x10 camera, itself becoming something of a relic in the digital age, documenting historic sites of industry, many of which are being reclaimed by nature.

His photographs are a record of our industrial past but they are also a statement about our ambivalent attitudes toward these sites – the way in which we try to deny and destroy parts of our history as well as trying to preserve them.

The images combine elements of a lyrical romanticism, pure documentation, along with personal, political and environmental commentary

One image, Collapsing Coal Bin, Escarpment Mine, Denniston Plateau ($7000) shows one of the few remaining structures of the mining settlement on the West Coast This area with the Denniston Incline, often called the eighth wonder of the world, is being preserved but only in part. The image highlights the way that we rarely reconstruct such industrial remnants preferring them to disappear.

The photographs show most of the construction is now almost derelict, hinting at former importance and grandeur. Some have been preserved by individuals, others by luck, but most have essentially been lost and are reminders of the numerous sites which have disappeared over the years. Whole communities of thousands of people on the West Coast of the South Island are now no more than a signpost.

The images are also reminders of historical events and the nature of society over 100 years ago

The almost idyllic Winter Morning, The Remains of the SS Lawrence Mokihiui, ($6200) is a reminder of the huge coastal trade which existed in New Zealand and internationally in the 19th century. The grounding of the SS Lawrence, a coal transporter almost led to the collapse of the company as the ship was owned by the mining company.

Several photographs in the show are of industrial complexes that were important in the development of commerce, agriculture and transport leading to the prosperity of the county

Abandoned Chicory Kiln on the Clutha River, Inch Clutha, ($6200) is a view of the kilns in one of the largest structures in the southern hemisphere in the late 19th century. The chicory-producing factory and the island on which was based is an example of the innovative ways in which pioneer industrialists created employment and opportunities.

Few of the photographs feature the presence of people and the one where the individual is prominent, A Poet Writing Before the Falls and Freezing Works, Mataura, ($8000) seems to be a version of a 19th-century romantic Wordworthian version of the artist contemplating nature.

The sole figure in this photograph is the writer Chris Holdaway, who has written an almost poetic account of the journey that Corson-Scott went on, providing background and insight into many of the images.

All the photographs are large – some up to 1400mm x 1750mm, like large windows on to the views the artist has captured, contemporary views which also look back to our history as well as hinting at the future.


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